Do you like comparison shopping? Try this little-known trick

A young woman walking down the street with a coffee in one hand and looking at her phone in the other hand.

Image source: Getty Images

They do so many things, why are they still called “telephones”? !

Key points

  • Many retailer mobile apps now include the ability to use your phone’s camera as a barcode scanner. You can scan an item in one store with another store’s app to compare prices at a glance.
  • This same feature can help you restock items at home without having to scroll through search results to find them.
  • Some apps may require additional permissions that not everyone is comfortable with. Read the information before downloading new apps.

Completely ubiquitous, barcodes can be found on most things we buy. In fact, it’s fair to say that retail as we know it wouldn’t be possible without the humble barcode.

It’s also at the heart of one of my favorite price comparison tips.

You see, most barcodes – known as Universal Product Codes or UPCs – on branded products are the same regardless of the retailer. (Much of it begins life in the same factories before being shipped to their respective stores.)

So a bag of chips or a bottle of shampoo will usually have the same barcode at Target as it does at Walmart. And you can use that fact to easily compare prices from other stores while you shop.

Using your phone as a mobile barcode scanner

Mobile apps have had a big impact on the shopping experience. From countless coupon apps that help you save, to countless retailer apps that turn you into honorary employees.

Yes, if you shop at a major retailer, chances are they have their own mobile app. And more and more often, this application now has a virtual barcode reader. This nifty little tool turns your phone’s camera into a functional scanner that can read a barcode and instantly display the item’s listing in the app.

When you’re in that retailer’s store, it’s a convenient way to check item prices without accurate signage (no more searching for the inevitably out-of-order scanners at the end of random aisles).

However, perhaps the coolest part of this feature is that you don’t need to be in the retailer’s store to use their scanner. You can use it from any store where you have internet.

This opens up a whole world of comparison shopping.

Are you in an aisle at Target and want to know if you can get those frozen burritos for a better price at Walmart? Open the Walmart app and scan the barcode. Check out the price and even add it to your Walmart cart to remember later.

It also works with other store types. Want to see how much Michaels is selling for this painting while you shop at Jo-Ann? Open your app and start scanning. As long as both stores carry the product, chances are the barcodes will be the same, so you can compare prices quickly and easily.

People who are conscious of their finances tend to experience FOMOBP: Fear of missing out on a better price. By taking a few seconds to shop around, you can get rid of that fear (and potentially save some money!).

Restock necessities with a quick scan

Barcode scanners also have another practical use: replenishment. Did you use the last of your favorite barbecue sauce for dinner? Open your app and scan the barcode to find the exact product so you can add it to your cart.

Scanning the barcode is much faster than searching an item, especially for niche products or flavors that don’t have a chance to be in the top 10 “suggested” — a.k.a sponsored — results.

Speed ​​up payment

Another handy feature some stores are implementing is to use those same in-phone scanners to speed up your checkout. For example, if you’re a Walmart+ member, you can use your phone to scan items while you shop. Then, checkout in seconds by scanning a barcode at a self-checkout machine and paying with your Walmart digital wallet.

Be sure to read the disclosures

As useful as the retailer’s apps can be, be sure to read the disclosures and permissions before downloading them. Many stores will require all kinds of permissions including your location so they can see where you are going when you are in the store.

If you’re totally okay with letting the store app label itself every time you use it, well, you’re good to go. But if you’re privacy-conscious, you might need to choose which apps — or at least the permissions — you allow on your phone.

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